Find a mentor teacher. How many times have you heard this bit of advice? It’s a pretty common tip for first-year teachers, and there’s a reason for that! The minute you step into that classroom, you’re bound to feel a bit overwhelmed and completely alone.
Hold on now. You are NOT alone! This is why finding a mentor teacher is such common advice.
Not only do you have a whole school of teachers who have been there and know that feeling who you can turn to, and if you’ve found your mentor teacher, well, they’re about to become your absolute new best friend.
What Is a Mentor Teacher?
A mentor teacher is an experienced teacher who can help guide first year teachers, student teachers, or even just teachers new to a district, helping you get acquainted with how things work, offering advice, and serving as a sounding board. Many — although certainly not all — school districts assign every first-year teacher with a mentor. Don’t take this as a judgment on your abilities. Mentor teachers aren’t babysitters!
Instead, think of your mentor teacher the way you might think of a student you would assign to show a new student around the school. They are there to acquaint you with this brand-new environment, to offer tips and advice, and to answer questions that come up as you move along.
Maybe you’re getting emails filled with a whole bunch of letters that just make no sense (if there’s one thing the education system loves, it’s acronyms, trust us!). Or maybe you got an invite to a meeting at a building in the district that you just do not know how to find. Who are you going to call? Your teaching mentor!
Print a handy “Periodic Table of Education Acronyms” to hang near your teacher desk as a reference!
What Makes a Great Mentor Teacher?
Holly Mitchell is one of the many teachers on the Teach Starter staff, and she worked with a mentor teacher in her first year in the classroom. So we asked her to share a few memories of the experience so you can look for examples of what makes a great teacher mentor.
While this is specific to Mitchell’s experience, what her mentor did for her will give you an idea of what it is a teacher mentor might do:
- She was supportive. She celebrated successes with me and discussed ways to improve those not-so-good moments.
- She inspired me. To me, she was one of the best class teachers I had seen! She loved what she did, and it showed!
- She picked me up when I was down. She could read me like an open book, she knew when I was feeling a little down in the dumps and knew how to pick me up!
- She listened. She was always willing to drop what she was doing and simply listen to me! She knew when I just needed to vent!
- She showered me with advice when I asked for it! She knew the exact time I was asking for advice and would shower me with her knowledge and experience. She was always willing to share her ideas and resources – anything that would help me!
- She got to know me as a person. She made the time to ask how my weekend was, or how I was feeling!
- She made me feel comfortable. I was comfortable asking her any question … no question was a silly question and no time was a ‘bad’ time to chat!
- She loved stationery, just like me!
- She was honest. She told me how it is! You will never feel like you have finished all your jobs! Write a list and come back to it the next day! Don’t try and mark every single piece of work! It just won’t get done! Be realistic with what you can achieve in one day…
- She shared her successes and her failures! She taught me that even the most experienced teachers have bad lessons or even bad days! Don’t spend time worrying about it when you could be spending time planning your next best lesson!
Print a teacher’s back-to-school checklist to help get ready for the first day of school.
How to Find a Mentor Teacher
As we said, some school districts assign teaching mentors to new teachers. But if your school didn’t, or maybe you’ve had a change to a new grade or a new school that makes you feel like you could really use someone who is supportive and in your corner, we have a few tips for finding just the right person:
- Ask a teacher you admire if they’d be willing to act as a mentor. Your perfect mentor teacher could be one of your teachers from your grade school days, someone on your grade team, someone you remember from college … it really comes down to finding someone who supports you and helps you grow.
- Join a professional organization, and network. Show up at mixers, join in on Facebook groups, and keep your eyes peeled!
- Ask around. Know a bunch of teacher friends who have mentors? Start asking your fellow teachers how they found their mentor teachers, and you might find one of your own.
- Consult with your principal. Your school may not make assignments, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to make a few connections to teachers willing to mentor other teachers.
- Post a flier in the teacher’s lounge. Hey, it’s not just the place you go for coffee and to be talked into buying wrapping paper from Mrs. Jones’ kid!
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